Freya Darbyshire

Sweeney Todd: A Review

Until the 18th May, the Everyman Theatre is presented in-the-round for the spring performance of Sweeney Todd. In musical form with guts galore, 8 central actors tell the tale of the Demon Barber of Fleet Street.

Actors begin positioned on chairs in a circle around a roulette-style mechanism built into the floor, a device which symbolises movement throughout the performance. From Sweeney Todd’s return to London from exile, to his wife’s change in position in society, movement is not only represented through physical action but also the mental deterioration of many characters on the stage. A scene portraying the barber shop’s most prosperous period utilises the rotating floor to present Todd’s killing spree where multiple victims are played by a single actor, establishing the inevitable cycle of life within the setting of the play.

The rotating panel in the floor reflects the cyclical role that revenge plays in the story; first appearing like a randomised condemner, to then being understood as a device with a single trajectory that will eventually return to where it started. Those familiar with the plot of Sweeney Todd, will be aware that Todd’s origins in revenge can be well-justified by the audience, yet as his vengeful nature progresses, the fate that he suffers himself is a reflection of the fate that his victims do too.

Director Nick Bagnall cleverly adapts the well-loved screen performance to the stage, enough to result in standing ovations during its opening week. Many were for sure for Kacey Ainsworth, who bursts with so much energy in her role as the zealous Mrs Lovett who is Sweeney Todd’s accomplice as chief pie baker. The most hilarious song she sings is ‘A Little Priest’, (credits for this little lyrical masterpiece go to Stephen Sondheim) a song filled with puns on the types of people that she is going to serve in her pies. However, there lies a deeper meaning behind ‘A Little Priest’, perhaps best represented in the line that Sweeney Todd joins in on: ‘How gratifying for once to know, that those above will serve those down below!’ Mrs Lovett is struggling to make pies due to the high prices of meat. ‘Times is hard’ for the working class in 19th century England, and Mrs Lovett and Sweeney Todd commit atrocities in her desperation for money and his desire to gain justice for the lower class members of society. Indeed, the rise of the Victorian middle class is at the expense of the workers, who suffer from the likes of corrupt people in power like Judge Turpin and Beadle Bamford.

Audience interaction was excellently executed in this performance. The stairs between each block of seats were well utilized to deliver the actors’ lines from and to stand right next to the audience in order to engage with them. Due to the flexible nature of hand properties, real pies could be exchanged around the room and bottles of Pirelli’s Magical Elixir were handed out to audience members in a gallows-humorous barber’s scene.

It was a fully immersive experience, extending out to the musicians who were well integrated in the performance, and even carried on during the interval when ‘Mrs Lovett’s Ale’ and strawberry flavoured ‘Sweeney Slushies’ could be bought! The four-piece band did well to play constantly throughout and become a part of the action when they moved close to the actors to enhance their performances even more. From loud musical moments, as when Beadle Bamford unexpectedly took over the keys in ‘Parlour Songs’, to a tinny triangle being played whenever Todd drew his infamous barber blades out, music was at the heart of this performance. Undoubtedly, Johanna, played by Keziah Joseph, was the best singer. She captured the essence of sorrow and longing in her songs, as the ward of Judge Turpin. Her song about birds trapped in cages resonated with her own unfortunate life, reminiscent of many other dramatic heroines like the obedient Celia in Ben Jonson‘s 17th century play Volpone.

Altogether, the integration of musicians and actors and audience meant that the performance was fluid and interweaved into a micro-society. It was a unique experience to be a part of, all villains and victims and passive citizens within a theatre. Don’t miss out on this performance whilst it’s still on at the Everyman for just under a month! The link to tickets can be found here:

By Freya Darbyshire and Rachael Wass

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